What are carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose by the body and this leads to glucose appearing in our blood.
The body needs a certain amount of glucose in the blood to stay healthy. Typically, people without diabetes will generally have blood glucose levels of between 4 and 6 mmol/l most of the time.
Carbohydrates in food
Carbohydrates can be found in varying amounts in much of the food we eat. Some animal based foods such as cheese, eggs, fish and meat do not but most other food will.
Some examples of foods containing a relatively large amount of carbohydrate include:
flour (and therefore bread, pastry etc)
root vegetables such as potatoes, parsnips and beetroot
mangos, bananas, oranges, pears
A carbohydrate reference book is a good way of knowing how much carbohydrate each food has in it. The Collins Gem: Carb counter is a good example.
There has long been debate about the role of carbohydrates in the diet of people with diabetes.
Carbohydrates and type 1 diabetes
People with type 1 diabetes take insulin and so, as long as their insulin can adequately match the amount of carbohydrate and the speed of how quick the carbs turn into blood sugar, people with type 1 diabetes can in theory eat the same diet as someone without diabetes.
Some people with type 1 diabetes may wish to reduce the number of carbohydrates they take in though, if they find it helps them with their diabetes control.
Carbohydrates and type 2 diabetes
For people with type 2 diabetes, the primary reason for the difficulty in keeping blood sugar levels in the normal range is that the insulin that people with type 2 diabetes isn’t able to work as effectively as it should. As a result, many people with type 2 diabetes may be producing more insulin than people without diabetes to cope. One side effect of the extra insulin production is that insulin is the fat storage hormone and therefore increased production of insulin leads to weight gain.
One solution that can be effective in decreasing blood sugar levels and minimising the chance of weight gain is to reduce the amount of carbohydrate you eat.
Why don’t doctors generally advise reducing carbohydrates?
There are signs that advice is beginning to change but it is still relatively rare for doctors to advocate reducing carbohydrates to help with diabetes control. The main reason for this is that questions have been asked about whether replacing carbohydrates with fat or protein is safe. The debate has been hotly discussed and look set to run for a number of years yet.
On the diabetes forum, some people have had success in choosing to reduce their carbohydrate as part of reducing their overall calorie intake without necessarily replacing the reduced carbs with fat or protein. Others on the forum have had success in reducing their carbohydrate content whilst making at least some of the calories up with either extra protein or fat.
Carb counting is quite popular amongst many of the communuity.